Steve Johnson: From Committed Soldier to Insurance Professional
In the run up to the USO of Northern Ohio Golf Outing, sponsored by Skylight’s Business Private Client Group, veteran Steve Johnson speaks to us about his time in the U.S. army and transitioning to insurance professional.
Steve, tell us about your time in the U.S. Army and what it means to you to have been in the military?
At 18 I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do with my life and was looking for direction. I knew I didn’t want to squander my time and wanted something to show for my life so joining the U.S. Army gave me the sense of purpose I was looking for. My father had also been in the marines so there was a family tradition emerging.
I spent about seven years in service; three years in active duty and nearly four years in the reserves. After basic training, I worked as a tank mechanic before fighting for my country in the Middle East. Going into a war zone, suddenly everything becomes very real. It’s no longer drill, drill, drill but you’re in action and dealing with real ammunition. What happens is that the training that has been drilled into you just kicks in and you go into automatic pilot. It was scary at times but it’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.
What I liked about the army was that you were able to accomplish things you didn’t even think you could do. Before joining, I would never have dreamt that I would have the ability, at such a young age, to be a leader and manage six grown-up men. The culture pushes you to get better and better and push each other. I’m proud of what I achieved. As an 18 and 19 year old, I brimmed with pride, wearing my uniform at the airport and being thanked by everyone for my service. You earn your stripes and ribbons and an amazing amount of respect as part of this terrific organization.
As the oldest in my family, my four other brothers followed me into service and I’m so excited and proud that my eldest son has just left for training at Fort Benning before going to Fort Gordon for specialized army training. So you could say that the family military tradition is deepening!
Can you share with us your key highlights?
I had a truly amazing experience in the army and my biggest highlight is the amount of travelling I got to do. As I grew up, the furthest distance I had ever gone was about a 10-12 hour drive so it was really cool to get this opportunity to travel. Aside from my time in the Middle East, I also spent time in Bamberg in Germany where I took every opportunity to integrate myself into German life, experience their culture and learn their language. I can speak German almost fluently. It’s a time in my life when I worked hard and played hard. I used to hit the “strasse” on a frequent basis, got to know the locals and had fun. I went to Oktoberfest, visited the Blackforest and travelled extensively around Europe to places in Italy, France, Austria and the Netherlands. I was even there when Germany won the World Cup in 1990 and the country erupted - all they cared about was football then.
In what ways do you think that your time in the U.S. Army has helped prepare you for a career as an insurance professional in Skylight Financial Group?
I’ve been an insurance professional with Skylight now for seven months, so I’m on a new career path which is refreshing and exciting. I see it as a great opportunity for me to be able to help people manage their money better and improve their lives. There’s a lot of similarities between working in Skylight and the army. In particular, in the army there’s a lot of drilling and then you get into the live situation and react automatically. Similarly, in Skylight there’s great training which is repeated so that your interaction with clients become second nature.
One of the key skills I learnt at the Army is discipline and I find this is a crucial skill needed in this industry. Running your own business, you need to be very disciplined and focused on what needs to be done. Your success will rise and fall on this. You also need to be very committed and show great perseverance. You can’t expect things to be handed to you but you need to work for things. It’s tough establishing your practice but then you have a breakthrough and in just one day you’ve managed to submit seven applications. Just as in the army, you need to be steely and never accept defeat or make excuses.
Also in the Army, with its great camaraderie and breadth of experiences, I became a more confident communicator and developed my ability to make great friendships. As an insurance professional I get to put these skills into practice as I form meaningful relationships with my clients based on the army values of transparency, integrity and honesty which are instilled in me. You can’t overate how important it is for clients to know how much you care and they need to trust you.
Steve Johnson Jr. is an insurance professional in Skylight’s Cleveland office.
Look out for the next feature in our Veteran series – coming soon! And check out the lovely photo below of Steve with his family.